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Posts Tagged ‘health insurance’

Every 20 minutes an American dies for lack of health insurance: one man’s story

In behavior, culture, Health, journalism, life, Media, Medicine, Money, politics, US on October 19, 2012 at 12:11 am
Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This, from The New York Times:

So why didn’t I get physicals? Why didn’t I get P.S.A. tests? Why didn’t I get examined when I started having trouble urinating? Partly because of the traditional male delinquency about seeing doctors. I had no regular family doctor; typical bachelor guy behavior.

I had plenty of warning signs, and that’s why I feel like a damned fool. I would give anything to have gone to a doctor in, say, October 2011. It fills me with regret. Now I’m struggling with all my might to walk 30 feet down the hallway with the physical therapists holding on to me so I don’t fall. I’ve got all my chips bet on the hope that the radiation treatments that I’m getting daily are going to shrink the tumors that are pressing on my spinal cord so that someday soon I can be back out on the sidewalk enjoying a walk in my neighborhood. That would be the height of joy for me.

The writer of those words, Scott Androes, is now dead. He did not have health insurance so he did not see a doctor when he first noticed the signs of prostate cancer.

When Times’ columnist Nick Kristof yesterday wrote about his friend’s death, he got replies like this one:

“I take care of myself and mine, and I am not responsible for anyone else.”

Here’s some of Kristof’s column:

I wrote in my last column about my uninsured college roommate, Scott Androes, and his battle with Stage 4 prostate cancer — and a dysfunctional American health care system. I was taken aback by how many readers were savagely unsympathetic.

Readers’ Comments

Readers shared their thoughts on this article.

“Your friend made a foolish choice, and actions have consequences,” one reader said in a Twitter message.

As my column noted, Scott had a midlife crisis and left his job in the pension industry to read books and play poker, surviving on part-time work (last year, he earned $13,000). To save money, he skipped health insurance.

The United States, whose own Declaration of Independence vows “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, has become a shockingly divided place, where far too many of those who have inherited, cheated, conned, off-shored — or yes, fairly earned — their good fortune — are now hammering the oars of their lifeboats against the desperate, clutching, frozen hands of those now dying and drowning in the icy waters of an ongoing recession.

Too many of of those now driving gleaming new luxury vehicles see people like Androes, if they acknowledge them at all, as mere bugs on the windshield, something small and annoying to be ignored or dismissed.

Androes screwed up. He, God forbid, decided to step off the hamster wheel for a while and take life a little easier, something many of us long to do at mid-life. With no wife or kids to support, he was able to do that. But he was not able to afford health insurance, which is sold here like any other consumer product — and which can be brutally expensive. When I was able to get onto my husband’s health plan at work, even unmarried, in 2003, I was then, as a single, healthy woman in my 40s, paying $700 a month.

That meant an overhead, every year, of $8,400 just to avoid medical bankruptcy. Given that my mother has survived five kinds of cancer, I went without many other amusing choices (new clothes, travel, eating out) for years just to be sure I could, and did, get annual mammograms and Pap smears and all the preventive medicine possible to stay healthy.

Many people in the United States now earn $7 to 12/hour, since the two largest sources of new jobs in this country are foodservice and retail, which pay badly, offer only part-time work and no benefits (i.e. employer-subsidized health insurance). They might as well make out their will now. Because they can’t afford regular medical checkups, nor medication nor ongoing counseling to manage their diabetes or heart disease, even if it’s been diagnosed.

A young friend  — sober — fell on a slippery sidewalk, on a steep hill in the rain, and severely damaged one of his knees. He needs surgery that will cost $22,000. His employer, a Christian-based organization, the YMCA, refuses to help.

Yet another writer to Kristof said that people who are destitute medically have all created their own hells, and that’s where they belong:

“Smoking, obesity, drugs, alcohol, noncompliance with medical advice. Extreme age and debility, patients so sick, old, demented, weak, that if families had to pay one-tenth the cost of keeping the poor souls alive, they would instantly see that it was money wasted.”

I am ashamed to live in a country where selfishness is considered normal behavior.

I am appalled by such vicious callousness.

I am sickened by a growing lack of compassion from those who have never known, and utterly dismiss in others, the sting, shame, fear and misery of poverty and desperation.

And you?

How does this make you feel?

$250,000 Isn’t Rich? Riiiiight!

In behavior, business, culture, Money, news on September 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm
Without money
Image by Toban Black via Flickr

Here’s a recent blog post that makes me want to throw a chair:

But for all the moral outrage one can level at a person bitching about making “only” $250K, know that $250K per annum is much closer to the minimum starting point you need to bank in order to have a shot at “making it” in the expensive cities of America. Living the dream requires a whole hell of a lot more…. if you are earning $50,000 a year, the prospect of earning $250,000 a year probably seems like a panacea. Think about it: you’d be earning five times as much! I’ve yet to meet the person who wouldn’t love to quintuple his or her salary. From the perspective of a person making $50,000 a year or less (the subset could also be called “most Americans”), the person or family making $250,000 a year is rich.

Except he’s not…

In fact, most people who make $250K aren’t even sitting there thinking: “Ooh, if I bust my ass and play my cards right, being ‘rich’ is just around the corner for me and my family.” If, God forbid, $250K also represents all you have, being truly rich is probably not even an option for you. You can’t “invest” in anything with the piddling savings you’ve stowed away. You can’t “buy” anything, other then maybe a family home and a some consumer assets that will start to depreciate the minute you breathe on them…

No, if you are making $250K a year, what gets you out of bed every morning isn’t even the desire to become rich. Instead, you’re motivated by the white-knuckle fear that something will go wrong and you’ll be cast back down with the sodomites who struggle valiantly to eke out an existence on $50K or less. You are certainly not rich, but you are terrified of becoming poor.

This is why living in New York City, and its self-regarding suburbs, makes for such delicious comedy. On a combined income of $250,000, it’s true — that a $5 million home is out of reach.

Boo hoo.

There is nothing more terrifying to the better-off, (as the writer, a Harvard-educated attorney at least admits), than the notion you might slide back down that greasy pole.

Then what? A cardboard box under a bridge?

Our household income, with no kids, is less than half this amount. That’s still a fortune to many people in this country.

In downstate New York, sadly, it’s a bit of a joke. Crossing any bridge costs $3 to $9 in tolls, one-way. Two hours’ parking in a Manhattan garage can easily run $20-40. My sweetie takes a commuter train to work — at an annual cost of almost $3,000, none of it tax-deductible. The maintenance on our one-bedroom suburban apartment is now almost $900 a month, with three increases in the past three years. No choice in the matter; if we don’t like it, sell and move!

We own one vehicle, paid off, nine years old. My income is less than half what I made in my last staff job. Good thing I didn’t buy a bigger home or take out huge loans…

The problem of talking about money is that it’s rarely just about money. It’s really about entitlement. It’s about Who You Think You Are. The gut-grinding knowledge that all that Ivy League striving may leave you owning only one home (not the two or three or four owned by the people you attended school with and, for many of the strivers I know, spend their entire lives comparing themselves with.)

Keeping up with the Jones — certainly when, as one attorney I know is doing, schooling four children privately ($100,000 a year in tuition alone) — can kill you.

I wake up daily deeply grateful for: safe, clean housing, healthy food, caring neighbors, my health, a functioning, insured vehicle, health insurance, some savings. It’s a lot.

It’s enough.

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What's Next — Leeches?

In Health, Medicine on March 12, 2010 at 11:43 am
ER (TV series)

Image via Wikipedia

What a few weeks it’s been.

The good news is that it’s “only” been an insanely painful bout of athritis in my left hip and a lower back spasm that sent me to the ER at midnight. Could be much worse.

And I am very, very grateful to have good health insurance, through my partner’s full-time job, that allows me to get the care I need.

I did something I have never done in my professional life — transposed the address of a crucial interview with a source for my book, so I kept looking in vain for 970 Broadway — when I needed 907. I was 30 minutes late, apologizing like mad, and told him “Pain meds will do that.” So will pain. It’s insanely distracting.

It’s not really my normal life to see the same Xray technician twice in three days and have him recognize me. He is a ggggggorgeous man (sexist, I know, but when everything hurts so much, anything pleasant is especially welcome) and gentle and kind. I tend to joke a lot when I am scared, and was cracking so many jokes during my back Xrays he finally said “You must stop this.”

Yesterday, it hurt so badly to simply lie flat on the table for my hip Xray I started to cry. I hate crying and know it can’t be fun for them to see. The technician was very sweet and said he could clearly see the arthritis on my Xray.

“But you’re so young!” he said, as surprised as I at what appalling condition I’m in; my 80-year-old Dad is exhaustingly, astonishingly healthy and unmedicated.

“You’re a sweetie,” I said. “But I really hope we don’t see one another for a long time.”

In the past two weeks, I’ve been to the ER, my GP, another physician, (with a neurologist’s visit for Tuesday and an MRI likely after that), had a massage, taken four kinds of medication (two of which wreaked total havoc on my system and the latest isn’t much fun either) and now await a needle full of steroids plunged deep into my hip joint next Wednesday.

I live in the New York suburbs and have spent hours driving, sitting, meeting doctors, arranging appointments — so serious, focused work on my book has halted for the moment. I actually had to pay to park at a hospital in one of the county’s wealthiest towns, Bronxville. Paying to park at a hospital?!

Chronic or acute pain, as some of you know, makes you so filthy-tempered. You are forced to be alone (can’t go out, see friends, exercise); in pain; tired. It takes a lot of strength to do stupid and crucial stuff like just go to the post office or bank, where even standing for five painful minutes feels like an eternity. You want to rip people’s heads off, which they likely do not appreciate.

The injection, veterans tell me, will make a huge difference. I may, like the Tin Man, seize up for a few days right after that, but I’ve seen this with cortisone shots to my knee, so I at least know what it’s like.

The challenge will be if a major magazine assignment comes through — which will put me on a plane to rural New Mexico next Friday. Walker, cane, wheelchair, whatever. I once covered an entire political campaign, in the winter’s ice and snow, on crutches — getting on and off of campaign buses.

I currently walk like a drunken sailor because every single step puts painful pressure on my left hip. I’m actually forbidden to walk or climb stairs; so much for my girls’ museum/lunch day tomorrow seeing the Jane Austen show at the Morgan Library I was so looking forward to. I’d go with my walker (!) but the doctor says rest.

As you can tell, that’s a four-letter word in my world.

The good news? Our local indie film theater has three films I am dying to see: Hurt Locker,  A Single Man and Crazy Heart. I can easily shuffle from one cinema seat to the next, eat some popcorn and rest my aching bones — while enjoying a bit of the world.

I am really not 103. I just feel like it.

This Is Obscene

In business, Health, politics on February 10, 2010 at 10:20 am
A surgical team from Wilford Hall Medical Cent...

Only if you can afford it...Image via Wikipedia

How about an overnight 39 percent rise in your rent? Car payments?

No, just your health insurance:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, sharply criticized Anthem Blue Cross of California on Tuesday over its plans to raise health insurance premiums by as much as 39 percent, and she said that the move provided a vivid example of why major health care legislation is needed.

“It is unconscionable that Anthem Blue Cross would consider increasing health insurance premiums for Californians by as much as 39 percent, especially at a time when so many people are experiencing economic hardship,” Ms. Feinstein said in a statement. “I can think of no better example of why we need health insurance reform, and this kind of behavior is a stark reminder of why any reform plan should establish a rate authority to keep insurance rates affordable.”

Full New York Times story here.

From Truthout:

In a statement Monday, Anthem Blue Cross said the planned rate hike was due to the “weak economy” and called on lawmakers to “go back to the beginning and get health care reform done right.”

“… As medical costs increase across our member population, premium increases to the entire membership pool result. Unfortunately, in the weak economy many people who do not have health conditions are foregoing buying insurance. This leaves fewer people, often with significantly greater medical needs, in the insured pool. We regret the impact this has on our members. It highlights, why we need sustainable health care reform to manage the steadily rising costs of hospitals, drugs and doctors.”

So people are really sick and desperate will pay more for their health insurance — with, of course, a concomitant 39 percent increase in their paychecks or maybe a 39 percent rate reduction from their car insurance or rent — and the rest of the poor suckers who can’t even afford to buy insurance anymore will simply go without.

Avoiding An Unholy Rush To The Altar? Date A Canadian Or European

In women, world on January 7, 2010 at 7:14 pm
sock monkey wedding cake topper

Image by SpiritMama via Flickr

Want to get married right away? Don’t date a Canadian or European woman, argues Erika Kawalek at Double X:

I want to emphasize something about the difference between the state of affairs for women in America and in the rest of the civilized world. The competitiveness people bring to “dating” and “closing the deal” here is underpinned by intense economic competition and the desire—increasingly, the necessity—for basic social and physical security. There is a secret amongst the Canadian and European women living in the Big Apple. I know this because I am Canadian and my closest girlfriend is French, and when we resident aliens get together we really tear up this country and how it treats its women. (Our dating lives are fine and always have been.) When we talk about dating or the possibility of having family, with a man or on our own or with—gasp!—a coven of like-minded women (why not?), the conversation is framed entirely by the fact that we can count on our native countries to look after us should we—for whatever reason—not be able to make ends meet stateside.

Today’s “Oprah” show offered interesting interviews with women in Rio, Dubai, Istanbul, Tokyo and Copenhagen comparing their lives, showing off their homes, talking about the social and cultural values that affect their daily lives through each nation’s political and economic policies.

Awed by Danish women’s year’s paid maternity leave and four years’ unemployment benefits, among many other social goodies, Oprah asked:  “It’s “socialism, isn’t it?” We call it civilization,” her two interviewees replied.

The Danish women said exactly the same thing as Kawalek  — women there are in no rush to the altar because they know the state will provide them the economic security simply unavailable to Americans. I’ve been struck by this. I know many Canadian women, with good jobs, who own homes and have kids with their partner, who never marry. It’s just not a big deal and people who make it one are seen as a little odd. Living in New York, I’ve been with my American partner for a decade, but only our American friends seem obsessed with when we’ll make it legal.

If women had greater economic power, would this matter as much?

One of the greatest differences I seen in my 20 years living in the U.S. is this absolute obsession with whether a woman is married or not, engaged or not, and how soon she can get a guy to commit, buy a ring and race to the altar. As a result of this marital mania, I know some American men who live in quivering fear, not of commitment per se, but this unholy rush to seal the deal.

If every woman knew she, on her own, had lifetime free health insurance, a wider, deeper and stronger social safety net, college and graduate education free or offered for $5,000, would she really feel as compelled to grab a guy to rescue her?

Would guys breathe a sigh of relief?

The Ravages Of Recession: Insomnia, Fear, Shame

In business, news on December 15, 2009 at 10:18 am

Today’s New York Times runs the result of polling of 708 people who are unemployed. It’s a deeply frightening and depressing read, especially in a nation where job loss and financial struggle also means the loss of health insurance, medical and dental care; this week, BBC World News is running a powerful series of radio interviews with Americans and those in nations with government-supplied health insurance. The contrast is also sadly powerful.

The Times’ poll finds that:

61 percent say their unemployment benefits don’t cover their basic necessities

46 percent say they feel embarrassed or ashamed to be out of work

71 percent say their financial situation is fairly or very bad

Perhaps most telling, 75 percent say they think it likely they’ll run out of unemployment benefits before they find another job:

But the impact on their lives was not limited to the difficulty in paying bills. Almost half said unemployment had led to more conflicts or arguments with family members and friends; 55 percent have suffered from insomnia.

“Everything gets touched,” said Colleen Klemm, 51, of North Lake, Wis., who lost her job as a manager at a landscaping company last November. “All your relationships are touched by it. You’re never your normal happy-go-lucky person. Your countenance, your self-esteem goes. You think, ‘I’m not employable.’ ”

A quarter of those who experienced anxiety or depression said they had gone to see a mental health professional. Women were significantly more likely than men to acknowledge emotional issues.

Tammy Linville, 29, of Louisville, Ky., said she lost her job as a clerical worker for the Census Bureau a year and a half ago. She began seeing a therapist for depression every week through Medicaid but recently has not been able to go because her car broke down and she cannot afford to fix it.

Her partner works at the Ford plant in the area, but his schedule has been sporadic. They have two small children and at this point, she said, they are “saving quarters for diapers.”

“Every time I think about money, I shut down because there is none,” Ms. Linville said. “I get major panic attacks. I just don’t know what we’re going to do.”


Here are some videos the Times collected, of people telling their own stories.

Over the Niagara River, Suspended Between Two Countries

In culture on August 23, 2009 at 6:22 am
Description: Photograph of an Amtrak train. Ph...

Image via Wikipedia

Today I’m heading north by train, arriving in Toronto 12 hours later. And the day began, at 6:20, with an enormous rainbow over the Hudson River.

There are few journeys, certainly planned that way in North America, that still take 12 hours — usually what you expect in developing nations in small, crowded rattling buses filled with chickens. I’ll settle in with a huge stack of unread magazines, some music, a book. I love traveling by train, even unloved Amtrak. I like watching the landscape change, feeling all those miles.

We always lose at least one hour, and sometimes more, waiting at the border, where uniformed guards with sniffer dogs and latex gloves board the train, deadly serious in their pursuit — on whatever side of the border it is — of those they deem sufficiently suspicious, or insufficiently documented, to interrogate and possibly toss off. I once saw a young-ish woman with her small child removed from the seat right in front of me.

There’s a point in this journey, one I’ve made many times, that always leaves me a little torn, suspended between my two countries, as the train crosses the bridge spanning the Niagara River, its spray visible off to one side. I can see Canada beckoning, the red and white maple leaf flag and the bilingual signs, and the Stars and Stripes receding. Or vice versa. Which one is home? To which do I owe my deepest allegiance? Canadians who leave the country lose the right to vote there and, unlike Americans, don’t pay taxes when non-resident citizens. Once you’re gone, you’re gone.

Having lived in the U.S. since January 1988, where I’ve had many jobs, published a book, married and divorced and own property, it’s now home. But so, still, is Canada, in fundamental and blessedly unchanging ways, from boring-to-Americans shared cultural references to the comfort of my ancient history — my former homes and favorite shops, college boyfriends and camp room-mates and my high school best friend Sally who I see almost every time. I go to visit my Dad, now 80, meet some editors, wander the gorgeous downtown campus of my alma mater, the University of Toronto, catch up with friends of 20, even 30 years’ standing. I’ll re-stock the necessities like 222s (not a gun but a powerful headache remedy with codeine in it) and Canadian candy, truly the best. I’ll savor a butter tart (nope, they’re not made of butter!) and maybe indulge in a peameal bacon sandwich at the St. Lawrence Market, one of the world’s best indoor markets.

Deep sigh of pleasure.

Don’t forget: J-Day is Thursday, a powerful, emotional interview with two best-selling journalists/authors, former Los Angeles Times religion writer William Lobdell and T/S contributor, GQ writer and former Newsweek reporter Michael Hastings.

When Playing Sports Backfires; $55,000 in Medical Debt at 20

In Medicine, sports on July 16, 2009 at 4:22 pm
Sports from childhood. Football (soccer) shown...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m surprised to see little interest — according to the most e-mailed list for today’s New York Times — in Kristina Peterson’s front-page story on how some U.S. college athletes are getting stuck with some enormous and unexpected bills as a result of their sports participation.

It’s a little ironic. The country seems split between the sinewy hard-bodied we love to idolize and sometimes lavishly reward: college athletes, triathletes, marathoners, Ironmen and million-dollar pro’s — and the rank-and-file rest of us, the obese and overweight, the junk-food-addicted fatties forever being exhorted to get out there and exercise, dammit!

Wii just ain’t gonna do it. Read the rest of this entry »

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